Campaigners' anger at Hewitt's claims

HEALTH Secretary Patricia Hewitt has pledged that the NHS is safe in her hands - but campaigners against cuts in Suffolk have criticised her vow to press on with more reforms as a “kick in the teeth”.

HEALTH Secretary Patricia Hewitt has pledged that the NHS is safe in her hands - but campaigners against cuts in Suffolk have criticised her vow to press on with more reforms as a “kick in the teeth”.

Speaking in London yesterday , Ms Hewitt said the controversial reforms were the only way to “safeguard” the future of the NHS.

While admitting that staff were facing “difficult times”, she insisted the core values that made the NHS unique were “non-negotiable” and would not change.

Ms Hewitt told the IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research): “I believe the changes and the reforms we're making are not just consistent with the founding values of the NHS, they are the only way to safeguard those values for the future.”

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But last night her comments were strongly criticised by campaigners fighting to save their Suffolk community hospitals from cuts.

Roy Gray, chairman of the Felixstowe Save Our Hospitals Action Group, which is fighting against the closure of the town's Bartlet Hospital, said: “It just is unbelievable what they are doing. I have never said there should not be certain cuts but what I do say is that they are being done so drastically and without future planning.

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“I'm not talking about two to three years of planning but generations ahead. There's going to be nothing there. It's not just for myself that I am worried about but for my grandchildren. It's frightening.”

His sentiments were echoed by Gill Malik, Unison national executive member for the eastern region, who said the NHS “does not feel very safe”.

She said she particularly had concerns over the future of the West Suffolk Hospital, where she works.

It comes after the East of England Strategic Health Authority said it would review services and it refused to rule out the possibility of downgrading or closing any of the 19 hospitals in the region.

Mrs Malik said: “Staff have had so many cuts and privatisations in all the hospitals in the region but they have kept the service going for the patients and this is like a kick in the teeth.”

Ms Hewitt is currently holding the fate of Sudbury's Walnuttree Hospital in her hands, after it was referred to her by the Suffolk Health Scrutiny Committee.

Peter Clifford, chairman of WHAC (Walnuttree Hospital Action Committee), which is investigating the possibility of building a new community hospital in Sudbury with GPs, the local community, private providers and NHS stakeholders working together, said: “Here in Sudbury, we have never been against NHS reform or opposed to the NHS lead policy of intermediate care in the home. To some degree it makes sense.

“What we do say is that this policy will be twice as effective if it is backed by a secure, locally-based community hospital structure and that is what we would like to create.”

Warwick Hirst, chairman of Newmarket Health Forum, which is fighting against the closure of 16 beds at the town's hospital that Ms Hewitt will also decide on, said: “This is just political garbage. I have heard what she's said and read it but there are no facts there, no figures.

“She is not saying what's wrong with district hospitals. We are going into these things without any reasons for it.”

Campaigners in north Suffolk are putting forward plans for their own community hospital in Eye to replace the existing Hartismere Hospital, which could face closure under plans put forward by Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts (PCTs).

Eric Havers, chairman of the Hartismere Hospital League of Friends, said: “The health service might be safe in Ms Hewitt's hands but is that how the people in charge see it at the PCTs?

“She says 'it's a change to local hospitals' - we hope that the new PCT for Suffolk will take note of these words and allow and support our proposals for the development at Eye.”

Ms Hewitt said NHS values were threatened not by reform but by “the world itself”, including the aging population and health risks associated with modern lifestyles, such as obesity.

She warned: “The NHS is a 1940s system operating in a 21st Century world.”

The Health Secretary said many NHS staff transforming patient care were doing so despite the system, not because of it.

Ms Hewitt said the Government had asked the public to pay more for the NHS and must show the extra cash was being used effectively.

She added: “If we are to match people's rising expectations, care for an ageing population, provide the best new treatments, the NHS needs to become not just a bit more efficient, but dramatically more efficient and effective.

“That is why we still have to reform, why there is still urgency about the changes we are making.”

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